Guy W. Farmer: What’s the state of our union? Obama didn’t tell us
President Obama last Tuesday delivered yet another campaign speech disguised as the annual State of the Union address. It was long on flowery rhetoric and short on specific proposals to cure our nation’s ailing economy. Nationally syndicated columnist George Will called the speech “a tiresome exercise in (political) exhibitionism,” and I agree.
Julie Pace of The Associated Press wrote that “Obama’s proposals for lawmakers were slim and largely focused on old ideas that have gained little traction over the past year. He pressed Congress to revive a stalled immigration overhaul, pass an across-the-board increase in the federal minimum wage, and expand access to early childhood education.” Responding to the president, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., said Republicans want to empower their fellow Americans, not the federal government.
Will got it just about right last weekend when he described the spectacle as “the most execrable ceremony in the nation’s civic liturgy, regardless of which party’s president is abusing it.” It doesn’t matter whether a Democrat or a Republican is delivering the speech because in recent years it has become another campaign event rather than an informative report to the nation, which was the intent of our Founding Fathers when they directed the president to inform Congress about the state of the union.
These days the Washington establishment treats the address like the coronation of a British monarch, with adoring multitudes and an odd assortment of hangers-on and toadies cheering every word of the president’s rather pedestrian message. As Will wrote, “Both parties try to milk partisan advantage from this made-for-television political pep rally.”
In recent years special guests have been invited to sit with the First Lady in the presidential box, and Tuesday was no exception. Among the honored guests was Jason Collins, a 35-year-old gay professional basketball player who is unemployable because he’s 35 now and can’t shoot (and never could). He’s a Big Deal because he’s gay, although his sexual orientation has nothing to do with his value as an athlete.
So that’s the kind of trivia we’re exposed to during State of the Union political extravaganzas. And not only that, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Supreme Court are supposed to sit there like department store dummies while the president prattles on about how they’re doing their jobs. As Chief Justice John Roberts said in 2010, “The image of having the members of one branch of government (Congress) … cheering and hollering while the Court … has to sit there expressionless, is very troubling.” It is, and that’s why Justice Antonin Scalia refuses to attend what he calls “cheerleading sessions.”
“No justices or senior military officers should stoop to being props at these puerile spectacles,” Will concluded, and I applaud him for telling it like it is. Although President Obama loves to deliver rousing campaign speeches, even as he becomes a lame duck (Hillary is already lurking on the 2016 horizon), his speech failed to inform Congress about what the president is really doing and thinking. Rather, it was a wish list of pie-in-the-sky proposals designed to appeal to the special interest groups that contribute big bucks to the president’s political party. Thus, former President George W. Bush praised Big Oil while President Obama loves public-employee unions. It’s business as usual in Washington.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.